Toyota Mark X GRX 120: A Gem Hidden in Plain Sight

By Joe Mugendi

Published on 26/05/2022

It’s the early 2000s. The .com boom and bust has come and cleared. Fortunes. The SUV craze has not yet become a full-blown epidemic exhibited by a love for SUVs and crossovers that handle like a girl who just bought her first pair of high heels. Which means that most car manufacturers had spent the waning years of the last millennia doing proper research and development on their bread and butter of those days: sedans. Like the last ‘Hooray!’ before they all started drinking SUV Kool-Aid, the early 2000s car manufacturers collectively let go of their pecuniary trepidations and grabbed back their cajones in the mid-size sedan segment.  

BMW releases the E60 as the first 5 series with a turbocharged petrol engine. They up the ante in 05 by releasing their only production of v10; the 500hp, 5litre BMW S85 engine that made the E60 M5 a rubber smoker. Mercedes releases their C classes (w203) with 10 different petrol engines and 4 different types of diesel. Obviously, those are shared with other models, but you see my point.  It seems there were gems from the late 90s R & D and some cheese. Money.  And to some extent, the accountants had not yet got the full managerial consent to give engineers sore rear sphincters. 

As all this jostling for the midsize sedan segment was heating up, the oriental behemoth they call Toyota waded into the spanner-fight with what’s our object of affection for today, the Mark X GRX 120. It was not their only offering. In true Toyota tradition, they offer the same car to different markets in different sheet-metal guises. The Mark X, has a slightly more luxurious sibling, the Crown. Just like your 1500cc Premio is a Probox with make-up, a padded ass, and a shocking inability to carry a full-grown cow. Disappointing. 

Back to the Mark X

It is launched in 2004 and replaces the previous Mark II with a bag of goodies. Upfront, providing the necessary spank for propulsion through the rear wheels is a set of robust engines. The entry-level 250G has a 2.5l 4GR-fse direct-injected petrol V6 kicking out 212 ponies at 6400rpm and 260nm of twist at 3800rpm. Sending that grunt out back is a 6-speed torque converter auto for the 2WD version and 5sp auto for the 4WD 250G four version. Later versions only use a 6sp. Other engine offerings are the 3.0l 3GR-FSE (256hp) in the 300G model and the 3.5l 2GR-FSE (315hp) in the 350G model.

Today, the girl we are gossiping about is the 2.5l Mark X GRX 120. Because I’ve spent more than a single service interval with her. It’s been a jolly exclusive relationship and thankfully, no mubaba has dared stand in the way, for instance, by promising her a flight to Dubai for some sheikh V-power and shaking followed by the usual “cheza nayo mami itaamka tu”. I see you Kamau wa hardware….

How is she to ride?

She is cozy. The Mark X gets you through long-distance journeys with absolute comfort. Not BMW 7- series-comfort but the guy in a Nissan Wingroad will need a chiropractor for his wings as you play with your kids in the evening.  It simply swallows up bumps and imperfections on the road the way Wepukhulu did with kuku at Kakamega over Easter. This is courtesy of the suspension. On this, Toyota did not cheap out like they do in the compact segment like Axios and Fielders. Out front, is a double-wishbone suspension propping up its heft and on the rear is a multilink suspension keeping that sweet 6 power mated to the ground. The electric power steering on it almost ‘over-assists’, giving a vague feel in comparison to a hydraulic power steering. This coupled with the fact that it’s a rear-wheel-drive sedan with a bit of grunt can easily see you make maneuvers beyond the car’s limits. Namely fishtailing and facing whence you came from. If. You. Are. Lucky. 

An insurance gentleman I spoke to, matter-of-factly mentioned that these models report a lot of accidents. I bet that’s due to young new owners coming from 1500cc econoboxes, upgrading to a Mark X, and tagging along their heavy-foot-smash-pedal-antics to their new shiny V6. That 212 hp and 260nm don’t sound like much, but it feels like quite something. The car has some brisk acceleration. And it’s something to watch out for if there is not enough tarmac ahead of you. Mash the pedal on a surface with uneven grip, or on a corner and the understeer will send you to find healing straight in the nearest mwarubaine tree. Or to heaven, God forbid. Be safe. The car has what pleasantly feels like power on demand, those horses are always there for you to grab when overtaking or going uphill. Just don’t get greedy. Take your corners like prescription meds: with care.  Like a gentleman. A Mark X does not handle like a 3-series BMW. But for all highway maneuvers, It’s pleasantly effortless. You don’t need to wring out the revs to do sane driving.

When parking in town, don’t try going over the usual kerbs you see an Axio perched on. The bumper will come undone; get used to leaving a few more inches of its fat hind hanging out in the street. This car is not friendly with muddy terrain. Try a little muddy play and you will get stuck harder than a man attempting to insert his genes in a witch doctor’s wife. If you find mud, postpone the journey or budget for a new front bumper and shame. I don’t know how much shame costs, but I heard it’s up there with avocado prices. Watch out when going to those Kikuyu ruracios, if a single plate spills its contents near your Mark X, you shall be left with the bride’s parents. Twi hamwe?

Maintenance and Fuel Consumption

That 2.5V6 will need 7.6l of synthetic oil every 7,000-10000 kilometres. I recommend you get this done at a reputable outlet like Auto Express where they pump the oil into your engine from a large steel drum. Hear me out on why you should run away from that dear petrol station that gives you vibuyus: fake synthetic oil. Fake low-quality oil. It is rampant in Kenya. Just do a YouTube search and see how cartels ‘manufacture and package’ recycled oil as new. If you think you can trust your petrol station, do a search on Facebook complaints of motorists paying and having zero fuel added to their fuel tanks. Pay a K or 2 more and be on the safe side. Cheap is expensive. And risky. For a 2500cc Naturally Aspirated engine to produce 212horsepowers, the tolerances in there are quite tight. This one has a 12:1 compression ratio, and you need healthy piston rings to hold all that and the insane violence that happens every time that spark plug fires. The bang is even large in a turbo engine. This delicate orchestra of precision engineering relies on good oil above all else. Believe it or not, all moving parts in an engine don’t really make solid-solid contact. A thin film of oil, nanometers thick in some places, is always there to keep things smooth. Don’t try to save 1500bob and end up buying a new engine for 100k because the piston rings are worn or the conrod bearings are gone. Akili mtu wangu

Plugs. Six of them. Kindly look for original iridiums. Change after 30-40k kms. Cooling. Please don’t dare do that ‘direct fans’ nonsense on these cars. The consumption will shoot up and the engine will die prematurely, partly due to quick oil degradation between service intervals. Google why that happens. If the cooling fans fail to work right, replace their sensors or park it until you can. Don’t let our ‘Grogon professors” tell you that the car does not need a thermostat because huku kuna ‘joto’.

Gearbox. The Mark X has a 6sp auto. Which is very good for you who might be buying a 15-year-old Mark X in 2021. Torque converter autos are very reliable. If it has a 15-year-old DSG in it, I’d recommend you find a buyer for your left nut. Or kidney. In anticipation of upcoming bills.  However, to keep this serving you well and for longer, change its fluid. Toyota ATF WS fluid is the recommended oil. Again, don’t cheap out and buy some lookalike ATF from some shops huko Roysambu while the attendant says ‘hata NZE inatumia hii”. Kindly walk to Toyota Kenya. Sell a few goats if need be. Replace again after 60,000 kms, just for peace of mind. While at that, have the silicon and gasket of the gearbox oil sump checked and or replaced.  Kindly note that there is a procedure to properly flush out the ATF. It’s not as simple as draining and filling. When you drain the car the first time, only about 4l of ATF will drain, yet, the total in there is about 7litres. Add back 4l of fresh WS, ignite the car, press brakes, shift through all gears (including using the Tiptronic option to move it from gear 1-6 and back again to 1) so the ATF is pumped through the entire gearbox. Switch off. Drain again, fill up. Repeat one or two more times if you wish and have cleaner WS fluid. Check YouTube for a little detail on this. I recommend “speedkar” channel. A swap of the fluid in the rear differential would be nice to do especially after 200,000 km. You only need about a 1-1.5l of Toyota Hypoid Gear Oil SX GL-5 85W-90.

Fuel consumption figures

On the highway, 9-12km/l dependent on driving style. If you want to show everyone that you have a powerful car, or have foul spark plugs, it could drop lower. In traffic, be content with 5-8km/l depending on how unbreakable the bumper-to-bumper intimacy on the tarmac is. The real world observed figures, 2k aka 15litres does Nanyuki to Nairobi. 200 kilometres. Easily. Without giving you anxiety about having a fuel light. Mombasa to Nairobi with lots of traffic leaving Mombasa Dongo Kundu area and then some more traffic from Machakos junction to town…… and mad pace on clear stretches….65 litres turned into emissions just like that.  Am just saying this to get expectations down to pragmatic levels where fuel consumption is concerned.

The fuel tank is 70litres. If it is close to empty and you add just 500bob of fuel, you will swear the pump attendant hasn’t added anything. The fuel light will not even blink.

Why review a 2006 car in 2022?

The Mark X GRX 120 came out in 2004. It had a good run till 2009. It was replaced by the GRX 130 which run from 2009 to 2019. The GRX 120 got a minor facelift in 08 and so did the GRX 130.  Essentially, Mark X exists in 3 different looks and guises spanning 2004-2019. However, under the changing skin is the same 2500cc V6 direct-injected 4GR-FSE engine, suspension, tires, and the exact same 6speed gearbox. Of all of them, it’s that first-generation GRX 120 I find prettiest both inside and out. Later versions have an interior that suggests that its designers were backbenchers with Toyota Premio designers in the exam. Plagiarism with a small shifting on punctuation marks. And it’s that early version that is now being sold for reasonable prices. So, if you want to move from an econobox that gets you from point A to B with zero excitement……and still want Toyota’s reliability on a budget, the Mark X GRX 120 is the lady you need to start simping for. 

Happy hunting. 

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